Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Insurgent" by Veronica Roth- Uninspired Second Installment

Dystopian fiction is *the* think in YA fiction these days; the only thing hotter is anything featuring zombies. Last year Veronica Roth jumped into the genre with Divergent and it was good enough to make my "best of" list for 2011. So it goes without saying that Roth's sequel, Insurgent , was on my "most anticipated" list for 2012. Unfortunately "Insurgent" suffers from a sophomore slump and fails to capture the emotional oomph of the first book.

~Official Synopsis

One choice can transform you—or it can destroy you. But every choice has consequences, and as unrest surges in the factions all around her, Tris Prior must continue trying to save those she loves—and herself—while grappling with haunting questions of grief and forgiveness, identity and loyalty, politics and love. 

Tris's initiation day should have been marked by celebration and victory with her chosen faction; instead, the day ended with unspeakable horrors. War now looms as conflict between the factions and their ideologies grows. And in times of war, sides must be chosen, secrets will emerge, and choices will become even more irrevocable—and even more powerful. Transformed by her own decisions but also by haunting grief and guilt, radical new discoveries, and shifting relationships, Tris must fully embrace her Divergence, even if she does not know what she may lose by doing so.

Normally I write my own synopsis when I review a book. It serves a couple of purposes--but the main one is to summarize the book without trying to sell it. However "Insurgent" wasn't one I felt lent itself to an easy description because it seemed more like a series of events than a well rounded story.

Roth jumps right into the story where it left off at the end of "Divergent" and it's a book that demands you be really familiar with the first book: so much so that, despite rereading "Divergent" shortly before reading "Insurgent," I was still fairly confused right from the start. Unlike most sequels Roth never revisits the circumstances where we first met many of the characters and it's easy to forget why we should find an attachment to them or even remember why they're significant.  The narrative is handled in the same clumsy manner and, unlike the first book, jumps to various locations in a way that is confusing and often implausible.  The logistics of the book aren't well thought out at all- for example: there's so little distance between warring factions that a character can cross over to enemy territory after a short run and not find any resistance unless they literally present themselves to the enemy- which is just plain silly.

The success of the first book of the Divergent trilogy had a lot to do with the insight into human nature that came with dividing society into different factions based on personality traits. There were some weak points from a logical standpoint  but Roth had a way with hitting emotional triggers that enabled the narrative to move beyond its shortcomings. But the main idea of Divergence, when a person has the personality traits of more than one faction, was always a weak foundation to build the whole trilogy on and I'm afraid that it's the main reason "Insurgent" fails to live up to its predecessor.

The most intriguing aspect of "Divergent" was learning about the different factions. It was tempting to try to think of them in a "Harry Potter" kind of way but the more you got into the story the more fun it was to see how they were different and uncover the mystery of why they were created in the first place. The idea of Divergence was all about hiding ones differences from those who would destroy you for not fitting into a specific faction- but it was only a small part of the book and the way it was worked into the ending didn't detract from the overall story. In "Insurgent" Roth attempts to expand upon the idea of Divergence and make it a far more significant in the overall narrative. The problem with that comes with trying to explain it without any real logic or science to back up the idea -- after all how anyone could not be Divergent is the big question that is never answered. It's not enough to make us feel like it's an interesting idea, we need to believe it's plausible, but there's no there there- so to speak.

However, if I had to pick the main failing of "Insurgent," it would have to be the issue of consistency. Tris and Four, the main characters of both books, seemed very different this time around. The relationship between the two had a natural flow in the first book and you wanted to see them together. But in "Insurgent" Roth has the two at odds in a way that feels forced and contrived to bend the story a certain way rather than keep the integrity of the original characterizations. Tris has also gone from a decisive, strong character to one who cries with little provocation throughout the second half of the book- something I'm sure was meant to show growth but only served to make the character more irritating.

There were some glimmers of what made the first book so entertaining. Roth still has a talent for tapping into the emotions of the reader and, every once in a while, offers some good insight into basic human behavior. She also ended the book with a nice cliff-hanger that will probably be enough to get most fans to continue on through to the end of the series. But, for me, "Insurgent" was a disappointment and a book that I had to force myself to finish.

2 out of 4 stars.


Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

But is dystopian fiction the rage these days or is erotica the new hotness? Afterall...Fifty Shades of Grey is stomping everything. My forty-year-old female Mormon friends who read it can't tear their eyes away. And I cite the now infamous "tampon scene" as proof that one can truly write pornography and sell sell sell.

SQT said...

Well, I was talking about YA fiction. All the book-club mommies in my area are tearing through the Fifty-Shades books. I haven't bothered (what would I be compensating for if I did?) and now that I know that there is an infamous "tampon scene" I don't think I will. Ick.

SQT said...

Full disclosure- I skimmed through a couple chapters of the first Fifty Shades book and thought it was awful. I can be low-brow, but my taste isn't *that* bad. To be fair to the author I don't think she was aiming to write great literature. I believe her success is as much a surprise to her as anyone else.

Linds said...

I haven't heard about the tampon scene, but, I think I'm better off ignorant. I checked out some of her other stuff on her fanfiction.net account and thought it was pretty bad.

Whenever I think about Fifty-Shades' popularity and it's watered down bdsm, I want to shove ppl towards erotica that's actually good and say 'there's better book porn out there!' Within fanfic alone, you can find plenty of stories as good if not better than what's out on the market, certainly with m/m.

SQT said...

@Linds- That's a good point. I'm not a big erotica fan, which is why I don't read Laurell K. Hamilton, but if that's what someone is looking for there's definitely better out there than Fifty Shades. I reviewed some erotica a few years back by Polly Frost and it was very imaginative- racy for sure, but there was a real story with the sex.

Linds said...

On the actual book, I read about a third of the way through Divergent before putting it aside. Mostly because I was listening to an audio copy and I couldn't skim over scenes that bugged me. I find my patience for fiction shrinks dramatically when I have to hear in slow detail every sentence given how fast I read.

There's something about that second middle part of a trilogy that is so difficult to capture the right balance.

SQT said...

I wouldn't have finished the book if it hadn't been a book club pick. The other women in my group who read it also had a "meh" reaction.

To be honest I don't think this is middle-book syndrome. I think the main idea isn't well thought out enough to carry a whole series. The inside-look at Dauntless, which made up the first book, was great. But you can't rehash that throughout the series and the whole Divergent thing wasn't all that convincing as a central theme. There needs to be more of an explanation as to why people are so rigidly defined by personality. To say that's a natural occurrence isn't convincing.

Linds said...

Huh, I can see how that would translate to 'meh'. That's unfortunate, because I think its a relatively easy fix with the people in charge purposely messing with brain chemistry with chemicals in the food/water or chips or something (for whatever ends they plan) and you have the few that it doesn't work for due to a natural resistance, ie the Divergent. I think there's been enough studies on how drugs can manipulate the brain for that to work. The idea isn't 'new', but it'd probably hold up better than socialization.

Do you think you'll pick up the final book?

SQT said...

It might. There was a decent cliff-hanger and I'm hoping she might add the elements that were missing to the final book. There is the possibility that the reveal will involve some kind of scientific tweaking to keep people in different factions. I just wish she had introduced some skepticism to the whole concept in *this* book to make it more realistic. The whole thing seemed muddled to me.